Brain and Body

Woman’s Icy Death Brings Cryotherapy Safety into Question

November 2, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Frozen ice cubes
Photo credit: liz west/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Here’s what you need to know.

Superstar athletes like Kobe Bryant and Floyd Mayweather have endorsed cryotherapy treatment, and celebrities like Demi Moore also reportedly use it. The relatively new procedure involves stripping down and standing in a freezing, cylindrical chamber. Its incredibly low temperatures — anywhere from -150 to -290 degrees Fahrenheit — are supposedly beneficial to your health when applied for a few short minutes, but a salon manager in Las Vegas was fatally exposed to the cold when she became trapped in a cryochamber overnight. In the wake of her accidental death, the unregulated trend has been brought under scrutiny.

Why the craze? The therapy was originally marketed as a way for athletes to treat sore muscles and relieve pain, but more recently, cryotherapy became a popular weight loss and beauty tool, claiming to burn calories by freezing skin for just a few minutes. However, the science behind these claims is lacking.

SEE ALSO: 8 Widespread Nutrition Myths: Debunked by Science

Ice baths are the traditional method for athletes to cool off and relieve muscle pain after a game, and there’s no evidence that cryotherapy is any more effective than ice baths. In fact, cryotherapy is accompanied by more dangers. Skin that brushes the side of the chamber could instantly be frostbitten, and lingering in the chamber for too long could result in increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and loss of coordination, according to Today’s Health and Wellness section.

Worst case scenario? William M. Adams, director of sport safety policy initiatives at the University of Connecticut's Korey Stringer Institute, told Today that if you’re in too cold of an environment for too long, the core cools down to the point where, eventually, you could experience sudden cardiac arrest (your heart will stop).

Adams also wrote to Mic informing that, “There is little conclusive evidence supporting the use of whole-body cryotherapy as a fitness aid. Of the available literature, there is little evidence that has shown that whole-body cryotherapy enhances recovery or improves performance during athletic competition.”

Even on the website of Rejuvenice, the cryotherapy salon in Nevada where the manager died, the company states that the therapy is “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” It’s also unregulated by the FDA.

Sadly, the salon manager was only 24 years old, and the cryotherapy accident took her life far too early. Despite the fact that her death was the result of an accidental circumstance, hopefully her case will still bring the dangers of cryotherapy to light, and remind the public of just how unregulated this practice is. In fact, the salon in Nevada was shut down because Nevada officials discovered that the spa was unlicensed by the state.

The bottom line: there’s no conclusive science to deem cryotherapy is a safe practice. Until more research is done on the completely unregulated trend, it’s best to stick to ice packs and ice baths.

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